|Painting by Norman Cornish|
A conservative and a reformer arrive at the pub. They sit at the bar.
"I always sit at the bar," says the reformer. "It's more democratic than the tables. You're eye level with the bartender. Equals."
The bartender produces a mug of beer in front of the conservative. The reformer studies a list of craft beers. He orders a bottle, sips, and provides florid commentary. This is followed by a charming anecdote about a Somalilander he once met in an English pub.
"Cheers," the conservative rotely lifts his glass.
"Let me buy you one. I don't know how you can drink that stuff," says the reformer. "It has no character. You want to drink a beer with some complexity, that gives you an idea what it's about."
"No, thanks," replies the conservative. "I don't drink to get ideas."
The reformer begins a new anecdote.
The conservative asks the bartender for a menu and then orders a meal. He offers the menu to the reformer.
"No," says the reformer firmly. "I only eat at fair trade sustainable restaurants. One has to be socially responsible."
The conservative looks away. One of the pub's many screens meets his eyes. On it plays a news program about a current political scandal.
"I think he did it," says the reformer.
"How do you know that?"
"I don't know for sure, of course," replied the reformer. "But we have to decide."
"In the few minutes we have been here," says the conservative, "you have made decisions on chairs, beers, and dinner, all on philosophical grounds. Are those not enough judgments to pass over a drink?"
"The world will not progress on its own. We have to make decisions that will make the world worthy of us."
"But there are many things we cannot know, and mostly we enjoy the privilege of simply not needing to consider them."
"Not to decide," says the reformer, "is to decide in favor of the status quo."
"I do judge in favor of the status quo."
"That," responds the reformer, "is a privilege that we who desire progress do not enjoy."
"If you will not enjoy it as a privilege, then honor it as a duty. If we are forced to decide points that are not provable or disprovable, our stability rests on the sands of opinion and impression."
The reformer shakes his head. "That is the price of living in a democracy. There is no one else to do the judging but us. The facts are incomplete, our information is imperfect, but we still have to make decisions."
"But we don't have to make decisions. Not about everything. God judges all, but we are excused from having to know the sins of the world and to render judgment upon them."
"That is the difference," the reformer replies, "between a world that is worthy of us and one that is not."
The conservative's dinner arrives. He bows his head and prays. He concludes aloud:
"Forgive us our sins
for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us,
and do not subject us to the final test."